State lawmakers consider financial incentives to boost police recruitment

Law enforcement recruitment plan

Law enforcement recruitment plan

State lawmakers are working on a plan to tackle law enforcement shortages across Minnesota. Data from the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training shows the number of licensed and active peace officers decreased by 293 between 2018 and 2022.

“We’re seeing police departments struggling to keep their doors open and in fact, some departments have had to close,” said Jeff Potts, the executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reported in April that three local police departments have closed over the last year due to challenges with recruitment and retention: Morris, Ortonville and Clara City.

“We’ve certainly had times when it’s been tougher but I don’t ever remember a time when it’s been this challenging to recruit police officers,” said Potts.

The public safety omnibus bill currently includes several provisions to address recruitment challenges.

One provision would allow a peace officer candidate to apply for up to $20,000 in student loan debt relief after two years on the job.

“Over the last four, five, six years the number of people that have started college programs, that have wanted to get into law enforcement, that number has shrunk drastically,” said Potts. “[The bill] tries to bring more people into law enforcement and really fill that pipeline that has really run dry.”

Another provision in the bill would allow law enforcement agencies statewide to be reimbursed up to $50,000 dollars for the cost of educating, training, paying and insuring an eligible peace officer candidate.

“It would provide them with the funding, academic scholarship funding to attend the training to basically convert a degree from something else into a degree in law enforcement,” said Potts.

The Carver County Sheriff’s Office started a similar program a few years ago.

Sheriff Jason Kamerud explained they hire one or two candidates per year through their cadet program.

“We hire them and pay them to be a student until they get their license done and then we bring them in and run them through our field training program and put them out into solo patrol,” said Sheriff Kamerud. “It’s very difficult to work full time, make your mortgage payment, be your kids’ baseball coach and go to college to get this. We offset that by hiring them as a cadet, their job is to go to school and they’re still allowed to fulfill their family obligations.”

Sheriff Kamerud said their cadet program hasn’t attracted as many second-career candidates as they would’ve liked but it has helped them hire deputies who needed a non-traditional path to enter the career.

“I think this is a good helping hand from the legislature,” he said. “It really is a fantastic honorable profession and I would hope that people will pay attention to this and maybe explore it a little bit further.”

He’s seen a steady decline in applicants over the years since he entered the profession in the mid-90’s.

“When I applied for my deputy sheriff job, I was one of 450 applicants or something,” he said. “Fast forward to today when we run a posting today if we get more than 20 we really consider that to be quite successful.”

He added, “When I talk to my peers and colleagues with other sheriff’s offices and police agencies, we’re all struggling with the same situation and we’re all competing for the same candidates and there’s just not enough of them right now.”

Members of the Minnesota House and Senate are meeting in conference committees to iron out differences in the public safety omnibus bill.